German Kral’s Our Last Tango is the kind of film that pushes the documentary form towards new heights, imbuing his film was drama and artistry in the pursuit of a familiar story that many viewers will probably relate to.
Our Last Tango charts the lives of Argentina’s foremost tango couple – Maria Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes. Over the course of fifty years, the couple breathed new life into the Argentine tango scene and brought it to the world’s attention, even ending up performing on Broadway and becoming international tango stars. As most dance partners go, the two become inseparable, eventually getting married early on in their career. But with increasing artistic differences and philandering, the two eventually separated, and of course, comes with an unimaginable pain that follows.
The story is told through a number of mediums within the film. Interviews with Rego and Copes (always separate, never together) make up the majority of the film, and Kral chooses to emphasise their story through inspired re-enactments of dance sequences, enlisting the help of some of Buenos Aires’ best dancers to play the couple in their younger days: Pablo Veron, Ayelen Alvarez Mino, Juan Malizia, Francesca Santapa, Alejandra Gutty and Pancho Martinez Pey. These scenes are powerful ones, and viewers are thrust into the sense of a kind of fairy tale, as we watch them dance around in their homes, falling in love at the club, and learning from each other. One easily thinks that it’s a happy film at first, and their love feels unbreakable, endless and infinite, particularly with the choice to shoot the early scenes in sepia tones.
In between the interviews and dance sequences, we’re treated to shots of the dancers in conversation with Copes and Rego as well, listening intently and with understanding as they recount their own stories to them in order to better grasp the core emotions to be portrayed in their choreography, the dancers learning to find chemistry with each other in the same way Copes and Rego did. Viewers are also entreated to a behind the scenes look at some of the rehearsals done, including being privy to harnesses that allow them to fly through the air in some rather fantastic sequences, before seeing the full dance play out. Each choreography never detracts from the story, but only enhances it, and perfectly encapsulates the intimacy and power of the tango style. Coupled with some well-chosen background scenes, with spectacular, theatrical lighting each dance becomes a magical glimpse that captures both the emotion that is poured into the performance, its reliance on a shared state of mind and well-rehearsed, precision dance moves that fill the film with an inimitable dynamism.
But beyond the glorious dance sequences, the real drama lies in the interview with Rego and Copes. One feels that the film is slightly biased towards Rego – as opposed to how Copes is now remarried with a daughter, Rego is left alone, still a little bitter. Yet, there’s a fiery energy to her words that suggests she has channeled her pain into anger, and not regret. She speaks, determinedly, that women should learn how to manipulate men, lest they be taken advantage of. Her hair a flaming red, this attitude is similarly reflected in the dance that accompanies it, the movements rapid, angry and with a ferocity that tears up the dancefloor. Rego has suffered somewhat, but her pride is what keeps her going, and her commitment to her craft what ultimately led to the couple’s success artistically even as they dealt with personal problems. Even through her anger, there’s the sense that she looks upon her memories with fondness, and a genuine glee and laughter emerges when she emerges their first meeting and the bloom of a legendary collaboration.
In contrast, Copes seems to be the one who remains somewhat hung up over the separation, a man who, in spite of how perfect his life seems to be, feels full of regret.Copes of course, stoically defends his actions, somewhat misogynistically claiming ‘ownership’ over Rego at the time, but an interview with his daughter, a tango dancer herself, reveals how she felt that Copes kept trying to rekindle the same spark he had with Rego in his choreographies with her. There is a pang of wistful longing that hangs in the air, not said but clearly between the lines, as Copes speaks of his past with Rego.
But whichever side of the broken couple you side with, there is an undeniable sense of loss in watching the film tell the complete story of love found and love lost. Using a relationship as the core driving force for a film seems cliche, but in Our Last Tango, it becomes a necessary means to understand the process and journey that these two have taken in pushing their artistry to the absolute limits.
Our Last Tango is no doubt a heartbreaking film, and through it, one feels the fragility of a relationship. Yet in weathering the storm and sticking it through, the two found incredible strength and skill by channeling their pain away from their art, and allowing their dance to remain flawlessly innovative and vibrant. A film that pushes at the limitations of documentary and transforming it into a glorious, multi-medium art form, Our Last Tango is a must watch not only for dance enthusiasts, but anyone interested in a keen, sensitive look at the complexities of art and its relation to life itself.
Our Last Tango will be released in UK cinemas on 22nd September